Early Reaction to The Hobbit in 48 fps
I just read this very interesting post from Peter Sciretta of /Film, he attended a CinemaCon conference where Warner Bros screened 10 minutes of footage from the upcoming Hobbit film. The film, of course, has been touted as the first major film to incorporate a higher frame rate (as pushed by James Cameron as the next great evolution of cinema). After having watched the footage, Sciretta recounted the surprisingly disturbing results of seeing the film at 48 fps:
Here's the link to the /Film page, or if you don't like clicking on links, I just copy/pasted the meat of it below:
From Peter Sciretta:
"The footage opened up with wide expansive shots of people walking on mountains and over rich green landscapes — those awesome shots that became synonymous with the Lord of the Rings series when it began a decade ago. Thee shots looked incredible — almost like something you would see in an IMAX 3D nature documentary — so extremely vivid and breathtaking, and more real than we’ve ever seen these shots before.
This is the future of Cinema… I thought…
But my amazement quickly came to an end as the sizzle reel transitioned from the landscape footage to the character centric. Everything looked so… different. It was jarring.
The change from 24 frames per second to 48 frames per second is HUGE. It completely changes what every image looks like, the movements, the tone, everything is different.
It looked like a made for television BBC movie.
It looked like when you turn your LCD television to the 120 hertz up-conversion setting.
It looked uncompromisingly real — so much so that it looked fake.
More noticeable in the footage was the make-up, the sets, the costumes. Hobbiton and Middle Earth didn’t feel like a different universe, it felt like a special effect, a film set with actors in costumes. It looked like behind the scenes footage.
The movement of the actors looked… strange. Almost as if the performances had been partly sped up. But the dialogue matched the movement of the lips, so it wasn’t an effect of speed-ramping.
It didn’t look cinematic. Not at all, even with a top filmmaker like Peter Jackson at the helm.
“This is the future of cinema,” I wondered?
But it wasn’t just me — almost everyone I talked to, almost every conversation I overheard while leaving the presentation, all centered around how it didn’t look good.
I think it might be too early to completely write off this jump to higher frame rates. I’m trying my best to be as non-sensationalistic as I possibly can.
Could it be that the footage is so unfinished that it just didn’t look right? Miracles can be accomplished in color time and post processing, so who knows?
Could it be that we’ve grown up looking at 24 frames per second and that this newer, presumably better, higher frame rate looks bad only because its something we’re not use to? Possibly? I don’t know. Maybe in 30 years we’ll be looking back at the choppiness of 24fps films and wonder how we could watch something so unrealistic. I really believed this would be possible leaving Cameron’s presentation last year, but this year I’m a lot more doubtful.
I’m a very enthusiastic person, wanting to embrace change. I’m an early adopter of new technology, I welcome improvements whenever I can. 48 frames per second made sense to me, but after seeing real movie footage shot and projected, I couldn’t be more unsure about it.
Vendors claim that a large amount of the digital projectors already in theaters will be easily upgradable to 48fps through a software update (of course, those tech vendors will probably charge for the patch). Warner Bros and Peter Jackson are hoping that most theaters will upgrade before the film comes out in December. Judging from the reaction from theater owners and managers, I’m not sure if that will happen or not. If it does, I do for see that the change to a higher frame rate could be more polarizing than the jump to 3D. If it looks anything like what was presented today at CinemaCon, I think a lot of people will be angry about this change (when they finally see it for themselves)."
I tend to agree with:
Showscan's results are misleading; sure you get "more brain activity" but is it the right kind? I guess we'll see when these films hit wide release.
I'm not smart enough to argue with Mr. Jackson or Mr. Maschwitz, I respect them both. However, when I try to wrap my mind around this issue simply from a theoretical perspective and not having the opportunity to screen the footage myself, I tend to subscribe to the science laid out in John Galt's article in COW Magazine last year (http://magazine.creativecow.net/article/the-truth-about-2k-4k-the-future-of...). I think we can get a brighter image with more detail by adding fps as opposed to pixels (John uses the Phantom Camera as an example here).
There may be a transition period where it looks different to us, but that should be expected, right? These early fans saw the footage of Hobbit and the movement looked "different" than they are accustomed to seeing it, digging for a word to describe it, natural vs. unnatural seems to make sense right? Not because it is more or less lifelike, just that it is less like 24fps. To us 24 is "natural" so by moving to something more "real" there may be a transition period where, for a short time, it looks "unnatural."
This may be a bad example, but when I first saw a TV in 120Hz, it was very uncomfortable to watch because it seemed so unnatural. Eventually though, my mind adjusted to it and I don't mind now. I know Mashwitz and others would argue that 120Hz IS unnatural, so that's why this may be a bad argument, but my point is that my eyes adjusted. And if we can muscle through the transition period I think there will be great payoffs with brighter, more vibrant images, more detail and so on. I believe that is why Jackson and Cameron are pushing for this. And I get it. For those who want a 24fps print I'm sure they will be out there.
After all, we muscled through a very difficult transition to sound and have had a lot of benefits from that (though the death of silent film was sadly unnecessary) and from B&W to off colors to more truer colors. And for my money, I hope the transition to higher frame rates will be more beneficial than the painful and unnecessary transition to "all things 3D."
That comment about looking like the 120hz feature on a LCD television is disturbing. I bought a Samsung tv a couple years ago with tat feature and have used it exactly once. It makes whatever you watch look like live tv. Maybe it is only designed for sports, because watching a DVD movie it makes it look like live television which is just weird.
Peter Jackson, Jim Cameron and George Lucas all make amazing films and likewise they all stand by their technology choices regardless of public opinion. So we'll have to wait and see. However given the cost to theaters, I believe most people will see the Hobbit in 24fps film theaters.
[Mike Cohen] "I bought a Samsung tv a couple years ago with tat feature and have used it exactly once."
I have a friend who has a 55 inch TV, and he never turns that feature off. Whenever I go over to his place and we start watching TV, everything looks kinda cheap because of it. I'm sure he's gotten used to it, but why would you want to? In my opinion, it destroys the cinematography of older movies. That's not how they're supposed to look.
[Mike Cohen] "However given the cost to theaters, I believe most people will see the Hobbit in 24fps film theaters."
The point is that for the overwhelming majority of theaters, there's no cost. It's like how much extra you paid for the feature in your tv. None. It's just included. Digital cinema projectors have had this for years. And the theaters that aren't digital yet are being converted with major funding through the National Association of Theater Owners and the studios. Cost is a non-issue.
Aesthetically, the same whining comes along with everything. You kids might be too young to remember the HOWLING that accompanied digital projection. It didn't look like movies! Which basically came down to lack of strobing and gate weave.
I did home theater installation for a couple of years, and people freaked out at line-doubled SD in the early 90s. I heard this all the time. "It's too smooth! I can't watch sports anymore!" I actually had people say to me that they needed the LINES. With a little prodding, I realized that they meant interlacing.
HD -- I can see their makeup!!! The sets look shabby!
We can go all the way back to Douglas Fairbanks, who faced real obstacles for his movie about pirates because he wanted to make it in color. A pirate movie in COLOR? Are you INSANE?
Whatever. Maybe it's because I like resolution, but I think of guys like this as visual Luddites, and I feel sad for them. Give this guy my email. I have a 24" black and white set and a VHS deck I can hook him up with cheap.
Associate Publisher, Editor-in-Chief
Creative COW Magazine
One thing you can bank on is the tendency of projection theatre owners/managers to hate making changes to the setup, free or not, and their tendency to always think onlyn terms of the bottom line. Don't even try to talk to them about anything aesthetic.
There are constant stories of current 3-d theatres not turning up the power on their projectors, or not changing out the special lens adaptors between showings of programs in multiple formats. Theatres are only interested in operating in a straight line from A to B. With "B" = profits. Anything that smacks of uncompensated "work" is anathema to them.
As to the new faster frame rate? After decades of TV people jumping thru all manner of hoops to imitate and replicate the failings of a film to video transfer, and an industry trying to make that kludge the defacto "standard", I say, to hell with 24p and good riddance.
I just wanna tell a story.
[Mark Suszko] "One thing you can bank on is the tendency of projection theatre owners/managers to hate making changes to the setup, free or not"
Oh that's not true. They're always happy to change out a bulb to a dimmer one cause they think it saves money. Or to move a screen up 5 feet, call it IMAX and charge 5 bucks more per seat.
They will adopt 48fps quickly if they find it sells tickets, or they can charge more to audience. If not, then they won't and the 48fps experiment will die a quick death.
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Juan, Theaters HATED LOTR. The movies were so damn long, they couldn't turn over the seats enough times per day, even at inflated ticket prices. Same for Titanic. Same for Avatar. Sure, huge money-makers, anyway. But theater owners prefer a high volume of business; move the cattle in and out and rip them on the cost of a quarter-filled-bag of Raisinets while doing it (You broke my heart, Ferrara Pan Candy company, how could you).
Yeah they just HATED the 3 billion dollars domestic in combine tickets sales of LOTR... hated it!
online editor | colorist | VFX | BD author
There's been a lot of stuff said here about terrible movie theaters that I don't believe is all true. Theaters have a serious threat in the coming years with evolving distribution models and the smart chains are making sure they do things right. Here where I live in Arizona there are two real choices, the national brand AMC or the local company Harkins Theaters. I went back to AMC a while back and it was terrible. All of the customer service, lens issues, etc. were there and here in Az you can see it is killing the company. Harkins is taking over here because they value a quality experience and they know that's what brings people back, and any good theater, like any good retail company, knows that.
Secondly, theaters don't hate movies like LOTR and Avatar simply because they are long. They would prefer a shorter movie for quicker turn around (as was previously mentioned), but those movies mentioned had legs, and if a theater is going to make money at the box office, they get a higher percentage the longer the movie is out. So when Titanic and Avatar were still #1 a month after release, that's money in the pocket for these guys.
I think there are some generalizations that can be made about the theater experience, prices are too high, film projectors are better or worse than 2K, every movie doesn't have to be in 3D, etc. But I think to say all theaters don't care about customer experience depends on where you are going to see the movie.
I only have one choice in my town; AMC owns everything. OK, edit, there IS a drive-in theater they don't own, it mostly does second-run and second-tier stuff.
Mark, that is to bad. The National Theater chain in my area stinks. The screens are really small. I have no idea why anyone would ever go their when they can go to the Megaplex Theaters. The Megaplex Theaters are the local theater chain and they beat the other theaters here with out blinking an eye. And that is not based on my opinion. They killed AMC and every other theater in the nation when it came to ticket sales for Harry Potter and Twilight. I would love for every theater to be like that one in Texas where you get kicked out if you talk or text.
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People don't want movies that look like cheap soap-operas. 48p is going to die along with the passing fancy of 3D. And no, Tim, I don't want your B&W TV w/ VHS deck. I do like HD. That is here to stay.
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[Jason Jenkins] "People don't want movies that look like cheap soap-operas. 48p is going to die along with the passing fancy of 3D. And no, Tim, I don't want your B&W TV w/ VHS deck. I do like HD. That is here to stay."
The "passing fancy" of 3D has been around for 5+ years now (way more if we're not talking strictly digital). Has there been a month in the last two years or so where you couldn't go to the local multiplex and see at least one movie in 3D, if you were so inclined?
I think The Hobbit is going to do for high-framerate cinematography what Avatar did for 3D. People don't want to pay for cheap soap operas, but they do want to pay for the best and newest if that's how it's sold to them. Look at the branding on the motion-compensating TVs out there: TruMotion, ClearScan, etc.
This is a world where people won't buy the widescreen DVD because it's "missing half the picture." People don't want to have to do their homework just to see a damned movie. Will every movie suddenly make the switch to 48fps digital? No. Will one of the screens at your local theater be showing a movie in SmoothD (or whatever they decide to brand it) every week? I'd say it's a safe bet.
[Mike Molenda] "The "passing fancy" of 3D has been around for 5+ years now (way more if we're not talking strictly digital). Has there been a month in the last two years or so where you couldn't go to the local multiplex and see at least one movie in 3D, if you were so inclined?
I've heard a number of stereographers persuasively date "modern" 3D from Chicken Little in 2005. I've heard others put it at 2003, when James Cameron released Ghosts of the Abyss. (While an IMAX movie, its success was mostly definitely at a mainstream scale: $22 million, where the largest number of screens it ever played on was 97.) Whichever way you count, we're at least 6 years out, maybe verging on 10.
Compare this to the 50s, where the "Golden Age" kicked off in 1952, and was already in decline by the end of 1953. Part of the reason: shabby projection. New production and projection methods led to a "resurgence," which lasted until the end of 1955.
The second "craze" in the 80s was 81-83. Two years.
So, even counting the short range of 2005 as a starting point, this is longer than the first two combined, and still growing. There has been no bubble that exploded and burst. Every year there are more 3D movies, more 3D screens, and for all that the hype rises and falls, it's a steady trend. This has never happened before.
Nor has a Best Cinematography Oscar ever gone to a 3D feature before. I know that Hugo isn't the most popular movie in this forum, but when the world's elite cinematographers weighed the best work of the year, they gave it to one of the fields true masters, and that's increasingly what we're going to see -- elite directors, master cinematographers, real movies.
It's not going away. It's just not.
[Mike Molenda] "Will every movie suddenly make the switch to 48fps digital? No. Will one of the screens at your local theater be showing a movie in SmoothD (or whatever they decide to brand it) every week? I'd say it's a safe bet."
I think you're right Mike, that this is a great starting point. I think that another possibility is that a lot of 48fps will be limited to 3D, where the elimination of flicker and brighter pictures is an explicit goal. There are still too many people who are COMMITTED to flicker as a fundamental cinematic experience for it to start much bigger than that.
But it WILL go bigger than that, for obvious reasons...if, as with 3D, not altogether universally beloved ones in this forum. :-)
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Don't get me wrong, I'm not too crazy about 3D. Any format that requires me to wear glasses over my glasses, no thank you. Do the studios not realize that many of the people who enjoy the movies that lend themselves best to 3D are nerds?
At the same time, I've let go of any delusions I had that the format would fizzle out quickly. Too many people have sunk too much money into it for it to die quietly. Still, given the relatively limited availability and slow evolution of the gear and technology, I'm not gonna call it a revolution or anything.
I'm a little bit warmer to the idea of higher frame rates. I think in the current state, yes, high frame rates deserve the "soap opera look" moniker. Visual effects in particular, I think, look cheap in 60i material. Or even on motion interpolation TVs. But I also feel like this raises the bar for VFX artists and cinematographers who choose to embrace the format, so there's the potential at least for just as much good to come out of it as harm.
My local multiplex has a 5D theather - 3 dimensions for the movie plus Smell (popcorn butter) and Sound (cell phones, babies crying) - it is quite the experience!